The Oracle Series Part 4: The Future of Publishing…with Chocolate Monkeys

You didn’t think I meant the other kind of chocolate monkey, did you?
Oh look, you came back. Here, have a drink. Clive’s making Chocolate Monkeys today. Mmmm. For those of you who are new to The Edge, we’ve been running the Oracle Series, a follow-up to my guest blog post in Rita’s world. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, we discussed the first four predictions that Carlos and I shared in the Writer’s Companion about where the publishing industry will be in ten years. For the entire list (so you can properly build your argument for or against our predictions) check out my guest post over in Rita’s World. 
Yesterday, Rita took over The Edge to share her publishing story with us. It’s very interesting. You should go read that when you’re done here.
Let’s dive right into Prediction #5, shall we?
POD will shrink down to a tenth of its present size.
How is that possible with e-books taking over traditional publishing?
No, Carlos and I haven’t lost the few marbles we’ve managed to hang on to. Independent (self) and vanity publishing has existed since Guttenberg. There’s a difference between these two terms.
Independent or self-publishing has been the only recourse open to those writers who, by the nature of their work and its intended audience, couldn’t use the services of a traditional publisher. On page 585 of the Companion, we point out that 10,000 copies is the minimum break-even figure for a traditional publisher.
Therefore, any book with a total audience of fewer than 10,000 readers is almost impossible to publish, unless the book retails for a small fortune. Writers who create books for small groups, or touch specialized subjects (such as how to care for your suit of armor) have known this unpalatable fact from time immemorial. Poetry and family histories are often published independently, as they have a limited market. These books will continue to be printed on demand or published in small runs because there’s no other option.
Vanity publishing is another matter. One of the best descriptions of the practice we’ve ever read is from an anonymous contributor to Wikipedia:
“While a commercial publisher’s intended market is the general public, a vanity publisher’s intended market is the author.”
We think the quote is self-explanatory. When the millions of writers out there learn that self-publishing without the backing of good editors and better distributors is a chimera, POD will dwindle to pre-Internet-era values. Everything will once again be right in the Universe.
Why? Because there won’t be this rush to publish shit that we’re experiencing right now. Writers who give a damn will slow down, polish their work and those who don’t, well they’re the tenth that will still use POD services. It is what it is and what it always will be.
Wow, how’s that for deep and completely meaningless?
What do you think? How do you see POD in ten years? If it doesn’t shrink, will this be bad or good for writers?
Come back tomorrow for predictions 6 through 8. They’re good ones. Oh, and bring your hunger. Clive’s been cooking.

9 thoughts on “The Oracle Series Part 4: The Future of Publishing…with Chocolate Monkeys

  1. That's a great definition for vanity publishers. But then, I always thought the name was pretty self explanatory, as well.I think you are probably right about the dwindle. At least, I hope you're right. The few good self-published works are being suffocated by the oceans of crap floating around. Why do you think that everyone is in a rush to publish? It is because this e-book thing is becoming a trend?**Again, Katrina. Apparently blogger/google/interwebz gremilins will allow me to comment on my own, but not yours. *sigh*

  2. I think that they're seeing the success of already established authors who have self-published and a minute fraction of lucky bastards who've never published selling thousands of books and thinking, "Oh, well now that we have ebooks, I too can achieve this success because obviously it wasn't my writing skills (or lack of) holding me back before, it was the traditional publishing system." And they're going for it. So yes, writers see the skyrocketing popularity of ebooks as a sign that self publishing is the new trend, and all the cool kids are doing it. And I can't even comment on my own blog. So blogger likes you a little more than it does me.

  3. So, then, you're predicting that when the trend fades (as all trends do) is when it'll be the half-assed writers that also fade and the 10% of us left will be the ones owning the POD/self-publishing market?

  4. No, I'm saying that there will always be authors that choose to self publish. When the trend that we're seeing right now fades, that 10% POD that remain will be those self published authors.

  5. I don't know if 10% is accurate but it should dwindle significantly.Time will tell.I'm drunk now. But that's only because I visited all the posts on the same day. Clive makes stiff drinks–and that's all I'm gonna say about that. 🙂

  6. @Maria: We needed a number, so we went with what seemed realistic based on what we know now. Would you say more or less than 10%? I agree, it might be as much as 20 or 30, but more likely, it's going to be less.I offered poutine to help keep the drunk away, did you not try some?

  7. You are using POD and vanity publishing synonymously. I have always thought of these as different things, though at times they can be related.POD stands for Print On Demand, meaning print the number of copies needed to supply orders. Couldn't it be used as a smarter business model for smaller publishers who don't have as much capital as the larger ones?Vanity publishing is exactly what you said and often uses POD services.

  8. No. We're not using it synonymously. We're saying that the biggest majority of POD books published today are published through vanity presses. POD can absolutely be a smart business model and some small publishers use it very well. However, POD right now is not a model that traditional publishers of any size are using. The key word is traditional. There are some electronic publishers that have used POD for print runs of select books, but very few. With ebooks on the rise and a lower demand for paperbacks, POD will be affected dramatically. It's logical that it will decrease and vanity publishing has little to do with that. Will it remain that way? Good question. I don't think so.

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